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What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels.  About 20% of the Australian population has Cardiovascular Disease. There are many differing types of cardiovascular disease, these can include but are not limited to:

  • Coronary Heart Disease:
    • Myocardial infarctions (heart attack) – this occurs when one the blood vessels of the heart become blocked
    • Angina – spasms of the heart arteries
  • Heart dysrhythmias – your heart may not beat properly or regularly
  • Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy – is where the heart does not pump like it should or becomes bigger than it should be.
  • Congenital Heart Disease – is when there is a defect in the heart from birth
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease – the blood vessels away from the heart in the arms and legs become blocked.
  • Cerebral Vascular Accidents (CVA, stroke) – by be due to blockage of a blood vessel or bleeding from a blood vessel

How do I know if I have it?

Many of the above have various presentations:

  • Heart attacks – presents as pain in the chest, arms or jaw, shortness of breath, dizziness, or collapse.
  • Heart failure – presents as increasing fatigue and shortness of breath with swelling in the legs
  • Congenital Heart Disease – often is found in utero but may also present as a complication following birth.  Often it is found during routine screening and some issues, like a small hole in the heart (Atrial Septal Defect) will not cause any problems, whereas others such as when the great vessels are swapped about may be life threatening.
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease – may become evident with increasing pain in the legs when walking or slow healing wounds.
  • Cerebral Vascular Accidents – may present as slurred speech, facial dropping, weakness in the arms or legs and loss of word finding.

How does this happen?

There are many contributors to Cardiovascular disease.  Things like age, sex, ethnicity and genetics are not modifiable.  There are many modifiable risk factors however:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Poor diet
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated Cholesterol

It is the modification of these risk factors that decrease the chance of developing Cardiovascular disease.  Of these, not smoking, being in the healthy weight range and exercise are the most important.

How do I fix it?

It is very important to have regular health checks with your GP.  They will help you to modify your lifestyle to engage in healthy pastimes and behaviours to reduce your risk of developing Cardiovascular disease where possible.  Sometimes, medications are used to assist things like, reducing your blood pressure, reducing the cholesterol levels or helping the heart to beat in correct rhythm.  Other medications like aspirin and blood thinners are used to assist with blood flow to maintain health perfusion of organs such as the heart and brain.

The most important thing an individual can do to reduce their overall risk of cardiovascular disease is to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, not smoke or drink alcohol and eat a healthy diet.

Where can I get more information?